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Why would you cook with tinned fruit?

"Now, it may be true that opening a tin can of fruit doesn't come close to the experience of picking up a fresh peach from a farm stand. ... But let's be real. The peach season is short. And fresh fruit can be expensive, not to mention dry or tasteless when it's not ripe." Allison Aubrey - The Salt

Besides look at the above - all three made from tinned fruit - in this case apricots by well known chef/cooks. Wouldn't you be proud to serve any of those up to your guests?

The ones on the left are Quick apricot tarts from Nigel Slater's latest book A Cook's Book, and, as it happens, the inspiration for this post. In the middle is Yotam Ottolenghi's Apricot and rosemary galettes via a website called The Kitchen Lioness and on the right is Rick Stein's Apricot tart.

In the introduction to his recipe Nigel Slater says:

"As a rule, tarts are filed under “serious cooking”. There is pastry to be made; baking blind to be done; fillings to be mixed; a glaze of some sort. Recipes that take hours rather than minutes.

Enter frozen puff pastry and tinned apricots. Commercial puff pastry is pretty good, especially (for which read “only”) if it is made with butter. Apricots survive the canning process better than most fruits – they can often be better than the fresh fruits you so carefully poach in sugar syrup. Tarts made using such everyday shortcuts still possess the crisp, buttery pastry and melting fruits you would get if you spent hours making your own puff pastry and preparing your own fruit."

Which made me think about tinned fruit in general and why he would think that tinned apricots are often better than fresh. Ditto for the same sentiment in the quote at the top of the page about peaches. Better than fresh is quite a claim. Personally I would just say different. But then we are blessed here in Australia with top quality produce - although when I think about it, I think I have yet to taste an Australian peach better than the ones I experienced in that little French village so long ago. My first taste of real peaches I think. We only had tinned ones at home - they featured in 'food parcels' from Australia I seem to remember. I still do like tinned fruit - well peaches, apricots and pears, and when - oh when will that happen again - tackling the hotel breakfast buffet. Topped with some crunchy muesli it's perfect breakfast food really, and there is no reason why I could not do this at home. But I don't. In fact I have no tinned fruit in my pantry. I have obviously slotted it in my mind as 50s' post war frugality. So whilst researching for this post I was interested to see that Delia had not a single recipe for tinned fruit in her How to Cheat at Cooking book. She preferred frozen and dried to tinned.

It's strange though is it not that in my head tinned fruit is simultaneously associated with luxury hotels, and parsimonious British post war food. Both nostalgic in different ways but at opposite ends of the spectrum.

I had forgotten morello cherries though, when I said I had no tinned fruit in my pantry - but that's because morello cherries are even rarer than sweet cherries. It's virtually the only way you can access them.

"Most canned fruit should be ignored on the grocery store shelf, left to sit in its thick, sugary, gloopy syrup. The one exception? Sour cherries. (Okay, so they usually come in a glass jar, but it’s the same idea.)" Emma Wartzman - Bon Appétit

So in a way Nigel Slater's statement about tinned being better than fresh (sometimes) when it comes to apricots, highlights the difference between Australia and the UK and fruit in general. Which led me to wondering why we can't get blackcurrants, redcurrants, white currants and gooseberries in tins here whereas Nigel Slater (probably not the common housewife) can buy kilos of blackcurrants at a time when in season). Those fruits are simply unobtainable here it seems and I don't really understand why. You used to see gooseberries for a brief week or so but not today. I used to look forward to making gooseberry fool once a year. It's one of the most sublime sweets I know.

But I digress. Obviously I should step down from my snobbish preferences and have another look at tinned fruit. If tinned apricots are good enough for Nigel Slater, Yotam Ottolenghi and Rick Stein then surely they are good enough for me. But be aware that there are fruits in heavy syrup - lots of sugar and corn syrup too, and best avoided; light syrup - which should just be sugar and lots of water; and juice - which is from the fruit itself and obviously best. However, lots of the following recipes call for the light syrup type. After all if you were poaching the fruit yourself, or indeed, if you were even cleverer and better, preserving it yourself, it would be in sugar syrup.

So what can you do with them? Well, as it happens. Quite a lot. Perhaps the easiest, most adaptable to tinkering, and also most tempting is the tinned fruit sorbet. For this you freeze the whole can. When ready to make the sorbet, remove the can and leave it in hot water briefly so that you can get the fruit out of the can. Slice it down the middle, chop and process in a liquidiser or blender and refreeze - or serve. You can add other flavours from alcohol to herbs, and serve with nuts or other toppings.

Moving on to the slightly more complicated, let's start with two different examples of the same thing - a buttermilk panna cotta. Buttermilk panna cotta, apricot purée from Nigel Slater on the left (no recipe available as yet, but the panna cotta is similar to Ruby Tandoh's Buttermilk panna cotta with apricots. They just finish them differently, with Nigel Slater simply topping them with the puréed apricots and their juice with a touch of lemon. Ruby Tandoh keeps the apricots whole and does things with butter and maple syrup and nuts.

"There’s not much that can’t be salvaged with butter. Here, it’s tinned apricots: thrown into a hot pan until they begin to char, then glazed with molten butter and maple syrup. Served with a tangy, silken buttermilk panna cotta, these precious little orbs are enough single-handedly to salvage the reputation of untrendy tinned fruit. You can replace the apricots with pears or even pineapple, if that’s what you’ve got lurking at the back of the cupboard. Just treat them with respect. And butter." Ruby Tandoh

My other apricot offerings are all savoury, which perhaps is not surprising. The middle-easterners use apricots a lot after all. I thought I should be fair to our Australian canners SPC so here is one of their recipes for Sticky apricot chicken wings; then the Not Quite Nigella lady does her take of an American dish called Apricot chicken; and, of all people Jimmy Barnes, who actually has a cookbook out in the shops now, offers a Red roast duck curry, which is a very quick and easy dish using lots of cheats, like buying Chinese roast chicken. He made it on Adam Liaw's The Cook Up program I believe.

What about pears? I'm sure that somewhere in Robert Carrier's books there is a statement that tinned pears should be regarded as a separate ingredient altogether to fresh pears and none the worse for that either. However, I cannot find the quote, so maybe I dreamt it. Instead let's go with Nigella and Jamie who both match with chocolate, although there are heaps more on the net - mostly cakes, but other things too. Chocolate pear pudding from Nigella on the left; on the right Jamie's Boozy pears and chocolate.

For peaches - which obviously could double for anything using apricots really, I turn to delicious.' Phoebe Wood and her Peach and almond cake with peach caramel, which I included because of the caramel part - maybe you could use that concept for a peach flavoured crème caramel?; and Jamie Oliver's Store-cupboard peach Bellini. Not authentic at all but probably effective.

Then there's pineapple, which featured heavily in my recent post on Hummingbird cake. Well you can't make it without it. Most of the recipes for pineapple were in fact cakes, - often that rather retro upside down cake with pineapple rings and glacé cherries in the middle. Not to mention the dreaded pineapple on pizza, but here are two slightly more interesting things from the Australian Women's Weekly: Pineapple self-saucing pudding and Coconut and pineapple chimichungas. Fresh pineapple can't be beat though can it? And unlike the Brits we can have it fresh from Queensland in abundance. Though it is a bit of a pain to peel.

When I was in Coles yesterday I thought I would check out exactly what kind of fruit you can get in a tin here in Australia. As well as the above-mentioned, there was fruit salad - which I have ignored because that too reminds me too much of the unexciting food of post-war Britain. I didn't like it all that much then and I'm sure I wouldn't now. The diced fruit was too small and the flavour was wishy-washy somehow. Diluted by the mix. And the main thing I noticed was that a lot of the tinned fruit was not actually in a tin, but a plastic container. This might be due to problems with the chemicals in the tin linings.

The other offerings were mandarins - I used to love them as a child, but then real mandarins were an absolute treat. They are commonplace here, so why would you bother to can them? Passionfruit pulp - yes very useful when passionfruit are out of season, but not when in, which seems to be a lot of the time and anyway it's the sort of thing you might lash out on an out of season version, because you never need a lot. Pay attention to the climatarian aspects of that though.

The ones that you could perhaps justify though were the aforesaid Morello cherries and also lychees, which are improving in accessibility, but are still difficult to source. So here are three using those - although the delicious. recipe for Dark chocolate and cherry crumble bars uses ordinary cherries I think. Maggie Beer, however, delectably changes Morello cherries into a Turkish style Morello cherry spoon sweet and BBC Good Food and Emma Freud, well the British probably have even slighter access to lychees than we, offers Lychee and rosewater ice-cream.

I can't resist adding an outlier from Yotam Ottolenghi - Fried apple dumplings with coconut caramel which uses tinned sliced apples. Really? Why would you tin sliced apples. England is one of the homes of apples. Even there you can get apples all year round. Why would you slice apples and put them in a syrup in a tin? Now the dish looks extremely tempting, and he does use the syrup, but I found this hard to believe. And would he use tinned apples? I guess he was asked to come up with something on tinned fruit and vegetables, but you would have thought he would go for those Morello cherries. Anyway - interesting. I do vaguely remember you could get apple purée in tins.

The sorbet could be interesting, and Morello cherries are justified I think, and maybe I should have a go at the galettes. That could be a quick and easy dessert. Coles, I see, has sort of rescued SPC which is struggling, by contracting them to provide their own Home Brand tinned fruit. Sort of good, sort of bad.


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